Last year, Davis School District in Utah removed a children’s book about a family with two moms from its elementary school library shelves after receiving complaints from some parents that the book "normalized a lifestyle we don’t agree with."
In Our Mothers' House by Patricia Polacco was restricted behind the librarians’ desk, and students had to obtain written permission from their parents in advance before they could even hold a copy of the book. In addition to making the book harder to read as a practical matter, the school district’s action imposed a stigma on the book and anyone who wanted to read it. It also imposed a stigma on children in the district who have same-sex parents by sending a message that – unlike all the other families from diverse backgrounds that are depicted in the schools’ library books – their families are something shameful and dirty.
When the school district refused to reconsider its decision, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of a mother with two children in one of the schools where In Our Mothers' House was restricted. Our client, Tina Weber, explained that she filed the suit because "nobody should be able to tell other people’s kids what they can and can’t read."
Earlier this month, the school district reversed its decision and put the book back on the library shelves where it can be checked out on the same terms as any other children’s book. And today, we announced a final settlement agreement with the school district that ensures that this mistake won’t happen again.
When it restricted access to In Our Mothers' House, the school district claimed that the book violated Utah’s sex education law prohibiting schools from having instructional materials containing "advocacy of homosexuality." We argued the statute does not apply to library materials and that books about LGBT families do not constitute "advocacy of homosexuality" in any event. In the settlement agreement, the school agrees that it will no longer try to remove any library books based on the statute. The settlement agreement also provides that if the school district breaks its promises, any student in Davis School District elementary schools can go to court to have the agreement enforced.
This is a fantastic victory for the students in Davis School District but we could not have done it on our own. We received invaluable assistance from the Freedom to Read Foundation, which helped provide resources for challenging the restriction and identifying expert witnesses who could testify about how In Our Mothers' House was well within the mainstream of children’s literature and that the school’s decision to restrict access to the book violated bedrock principles of school library science.
And the real hero of the story is our plaintiff, Tina, who was willing to come forward to protect the rights of her kids and for other students in the district. The First Amendment does not have much practical meaning unless people are willing to stand up when those rights are violated. The ACLU and many other voices had tried for months to persuade the school district to restore access to In Our Mothers’ House. But nothing changed until Tina took them to court. Tina said "I am happy that all parents will now have the chance to make their own decisions about their own children." We couldn’t agree more.